Deadlift Progress

I met Philip Wilkerson III a few years ago when I first did a seminar at CrossFit Anandale. In the summer of 2011, his deadlift max was 375 while weighing a self proclaimed “210 pounds and in terrible shape”. Phil was working through a wrist injury a bit after and it slowed down his progress quite a bit. Long story short, after working with Jeremy Wolfe at CF Anandale and programming with Chris Riley, Phil has made some excellent progress, especially with deadlifting.

Phil weighed in at 179 for this meet and pulled the 578 above. You’ll notice he leaned back at the top of the rep — this is something he’s never done before because he was excited. Leaning back at the deadlift lockout typically unlocks the knees, and in USAPL they look at knee extension in order to white light a lift. Despite not being credited with the lift, the bar speed was awesome considering this was the heaviest weight he’s ever pulled. I was really impressed with this lift, especially because Phil has progressed so well with consistent strength training. Not to mention he has a lean, jacked 180 pounds instead of a “fat 210”. Nice work, Phil.

The Lean Back

Phil doesn’t have a habit of this, but I see it ALL of the time in CrossFit. Leaning back is a horrible, god forsaken thing to do. It looks like shit because it’s shitty. First, it hyper extends the spine and/or posteriorily rotates the pelvis under a load. I can’t think of a better way to have a disc injury than to do this. If you want your intervertebral discs squirting out the front of your body, then this is how you’d accomplish it. Second, since the movement usually pushes the hips forward slightly, the knees will unlock in order to keep a center of mass over the mid-foot, resulting in a lack of knee extension (which is the issue we see above). Third, it’s just wrong. You aren’t any more “locked out” for a deadlift by leaning back. By standing straight up with your hip straight, you are effectively fully extending the hip. Finally, you lose out on intra-abdominal and thoracic pressure by allowing laxity in your spine, and this isn’t good for the moment you’re lifting, and it’s not good for proper trunk development over time.

Instead, merely stand up with the weight and lift the chest slightly. Lifting the chest is actually a USAPL requirement as it will ensure thoracic extension; leaving the upper back rounded is not fully locking the lift out since it could result holding the bar several inches lower than had you actually extended the upper back.

If you’re confused about the position, then stand up, contract your lower abs, and completely contract your glutes with your chest up. Now put a bar in your hand and that’s all you need to do.

The “tut-tut-tut”

In Phil’s video, you see a bit of shakiness, or as I call it, the “tut-tut-tut” as he’s locking the lift out. His hamstrings are not accustomed to maintaining such tension while they extend the hips, so the result is a shaky lockout. This is both a strength and a neuromuscular efficiency issue, and we typically rectify it with rack pulls from right below the patella with vertical shins. I talk about them in the Texas Method books, but they are the first thing we do to address lockout issues in the deadlift. I also like RDL’s, but there is no substitute for forcing the hamstrings to maintain tension and contract to extend the hips.

I talk more about the “tut-tutting” in Rack Pull Tidbits and Q&A – 14.

Nice job, Phil. Keep training hard. I don’t think he’ll mess up another deadlift lockout for the rest of his powerlifting career. You can follow Phil on Instagram and Twitter.

AC Meet Recap – 2013 Southern States

I hope that reading about AC’s experience will inspire you to enter a local competition. Have fun and train hard. –Justin

I recently competed in the 2013 Georgia and Southern States Powerlifting Championships hosted by Josh Rohr and held at Meadow Creek High-school.

Started off the day well. Got roughly 7 hours of sleep the night before, which was a lot considering I was really nervous/anxious. It’s only inevitable to get some pre-game jitters. Everybody knows them well. You think about the excitement during the day of the meet. You feel that don’t you…that tingling in your balls? Big metal butterflies fluttering around your stomach? No it’s not testicular cancer; that’s your mind fucking you. Hope you’re wearing a condom.

Fortunately I slept well. Woke up around 6. Made my way to the meet. Checked in/Rack Heights/Equipment check. All done. I get to the scale. The guy looks at me and says 101.7. I stare blankly at him and say words Chris has spoken before “Hey man, I don’t do kilos”. He said I was over the limit. He urged me to go take a shit. I said NAY, I have already shat! The future plan is to compete as a 231 lifter at Nationals and the Arnie so I didn’t really care about weight. However this meant I was lifting at 2:30pm instead of 9:00am. Kinda fucked that one up. I re-weighed in around 12:30.

The other flights were taking a long time to finish. A 30 min delay which turns into a 2 1/2 hour delay. This sucks if you’re waiting around trying to stay calm and keep your energy levels up. Luckily I had a great group of people there to support me. Nelson (my chiro) had some extra energy bars that HE PLANNED ON EATING. He gave them to me. I bought him a 40 dollar Chipotle gift card as a thanks (for the meet and the free chiro work).

Warm-up time finally rolled around. I do some quick stretching/foam rolling, then on to the bar. Squats feel good. I hit my last warm-up at 500. It feels EZ. I’m ready for the platform. My dad let’s me know that I am 3 out. I stay ready for my opening attempt. I’ve prepared for several months for this moment. An easy smooth opener to get into the meet. I’ve tripled this weight before. No problemo.

I FUCKING MISS IT. Great. It felt off-center/mis-loaded. I almost fall backwards. I was ashamed/embarrassed. My family and friends had been waiting all day to watch me lift and I fucking blow my first attempt. Callahan and my dad say to move on. That’s exactly what I did. I ended up reducing my attempts so I could go 2/3. It was the smart move. My confidence would have been shot if I missed another one. They load it to 540 for the second attempt and I crush it. Felt much better. I take 551 after that. It was rough. Not a PR by any means, but my squats were not working that day. A guy named Chris was one of the spotters; he was a real cool dude. He follows 70’s Big along with some other great guys I met. He was right there in the thick of it trying to help and motivate me. It’s great to meet dudes like that.

I talk to Shawn during my breather in between Squat/Bench. Even though my squats didn’t go according to plan, we agreed I was the best looking guy in the building.

Time to bench. It feels way better from the start. As the meet moved on I felt my body and mind working together. We loaded the bar to 350 for my last warm-up. Joke. I go out to the platform with 374 loaded. Blasted it. My abs started to cramp, and I think it was due to some dehydration. I thought I had diluted my Powerade enough, but yeah I was fucking wrong. I take 391 for my second attempt. I was concerned about cramping up at this point. 391 is a PR and even though I’ve done more in the gym the goal was to PR during the meet. My abs cramp even more. Callahan gives me a lift off. I kill it. The commands were loud and quick. I wave my third attempt Bench because I was concerned about cramping. I really wanted to hit 402 on my third attempt and I think I would have been good for it, but I wanted to save myself for deadlifting in case I cramped. At this point in the day this is not where I pictured myself, but sometimes you have to roll with it and make adjustments.

I try to stay calm during my warm-ups. My dad knows I am on the verge of an emotional eruption. He tells me one word when he sees me. Calm. Over and over. I did 500 as my opener. It felt like nothing. My dad puts in 550. He looks at me and he says with a smile on his face “One more then let it all loose”. I’m trying not to cry. Not sure why I need to get upset in order to rage out. It’s mainly a huge stress relief for me. It’s just the way I get pumped up. I take 550 and it feels even better. I turn and look at him and say “Welcome to the fucking show”. I’m in a haze at this point. He says something along the lines of “We are at the show now baby”. My dad is all smiles. He puts in 600. I find a song to play before I am 3 out. Before I know it my dad puts his hand up. He is holding up three of his fingers. I tighten my shoes, pull my socks up, and tighten my belt. I walk over the the line and put on Dom’s death scene from Gears of War 3. The music times out perfectly. The head judge looks at me and gives me the thumbs up. Right when he does it the sound fades and Dom says “Never thought it would end like this, huh? Huh, Maria?“. The first piano strike of Gary Jules’ Mad World hits. Marcus screams “Dom no!”. I can’t stop crying. I scream and rush the bar. This was a moment in the making for over a year. The set-up is perfect. I grab the bar and it was perfectly smooth all the way up. I scream in excitement once it is gliding past my knees. It’s a huge meet PR for me. I let it down after the command and I scream again and hug my dad. Exactly how I wanted to end my day.

For the delays and the changes in weight class I had a great time. I couldn’t have had any better handlers and people supporting me. I went 7/8. 551/391/600. A total of 1542. Placed 1st in the 242’s and I got 75 bucks for placing 3rd overall at the meet. I can’t thank everyone enough. Thanks to everyone who follows 70’s Big. Wish we could train with all of you!

Here is my 3rd deadlift.

Here it is from Brooks Conway’s perspective (who had a pretty good meet). You can see the epic man hug post lift.

A few of the photos courtesy of GT All Sports.

Efficient Training: The Squat

My travels have led me to many gyms ranging from performance centers for special operations personnel to CrossFit gyms, from storage containers to globo gyms. There is a constant in all of these facilities: inefficiency.

Though I’ve rehashed topics like this ad nauseam in the past (see additional links at end), it’s always good to revisit them and put them back in the fore front of readers’ minds.

Typical 5x5 weight for me was 445

445 for 5×5

The squat is the most important exercise anyone can do for any goal. 

Want to get stronger and/or bigger? You’ll need to squat since it strengthens the legs and hips through a full range of motion while the trunk isometrically maintains position; it’s a full body exercise. And since it’s training the majority of the musculature in the body, it garners a systemic (i.e. large scale hormonal) response in order to heal the damage done from an effective squat workout. This systemic response is what augments any other lifting you’ve done in the same training session and is the adaptive stress that spurns recovery and strength gain.

Want to lose body fat? The systemic stress response from squatting means hormones are working in overdrive to recover — a process that requires calories and stimulates muscle repair and growth. By using calories and growing new muscle — and doing this regularly with consistent training — the body is in a hormonal environment that facilitates body fat loss. To this day I’ve never had a female trainee not lose body fat on a strength training program.

Want to get faster? The squat takes the hips through a full range of motion and accentuates hip extension — the fundamental athletic movement. The squat also inherently involves a stretch reflex out of the bottom; the musculature about the hips and thighs moves into a position of tension and quickly shortens, or contracts, to explode out of the bottom. The squat perfectly prepares the related musculature for speed and power training as well as teaching the trunk how to stabilize the spine and hips to efficiently transmit force while moving (an important aspect of sprinting). The act of improving absolute strength will decrease the difficulty of repetitive movement, resulting in the capacity for higher or faster rates of work.

By regularly loading the muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones with a full-body movement like the squat through a full range of motion, these structures adapt to be stronger, more dense, and ultimately less likely to be injured.

However, in order for all of this to be the case, the squat needs to be performed efficiently with adequate mobility. And the first god damn step is squatting all of the way down — a point in which the hip capsule (acetabulum) is below the top of the knee (or patella). If you’re reading 70’s Big, then you most likely squat to full depth on each rep, but statistically speaking there are a few of you who don’t.

As I’ve said before: Every time you don’t squat to depth, I pour a beer down the drain. And I HATE wasting beer.

For the sake of the gods, let’s make this simple: a cue to help reach depth on any squat type is shove your knees out”. Sure, there is a lot of other things we could focus on like stance width, toe angle, torso alignment, breathing techniques, chest positioning, eye gaze, and so on, but anyone can squat to depth if they shove their knees out. The rest will figure itself out.

Dat depth.

Shoving the knees out externally rotates the hips to point the femur out away from the mid-line. It helps clear the femur from impinging on front of the hip capsule and surrounding tissue and allows for more hip flexion, AKA depth. It also helps create the “torque” at the hip that Kelly Starrett frequently talks about and results in distributing the force application across the hips and thighs efficiently (more on that here). It can help if the “knees out” cue is originating at the outside of the hips (imagine a twisting motion on the lateral hip that results in the knees out).

Since I’m preaching to the choir about squatting to depth, it’s up to all of you to help your friends do the same. If you frequent a gym and establish relationships, then it is your honor-bound duty as a lifter to help them. Don’t be a dick and just ask them if they mind if you say something about their squat — most people are very open to this because they secretly have no fucking idea what they are doing and ultimately have six pounds of anxiety building in their chest. Don’t over-complicate the matter — make simple and quick adjustments and give them a single cue before sending them back to the bar. For example: narrow up the stance, change the toe angle, then just have them think knees out — the first two are passive cues that they don’t have to think about and the last is the only active cue they worry about.

Whether you’re a half squat abuser or you are guilty by proxy, spread the word that the only way to squat is to full depth.

More 70’s Big articles on squatting:
A Half Squat Is Not A Squat
Squat All of the Way Down
Low Bar vs High Bar Squatting

Strong Ain’t Wrong

Sy Perlis benching a world record 187.2 lbs

Sy Perlis benching a world record 187.2 lbs


Sy Perlis is 91 years old, has a beard, and is setting lifting records.

That, my friends, is what dudes do.



Sy Perlis is a World War II veteran who trains five days a week and has a pretty good lookin’ wife for being almost a century old (see it in video below). In the WABDL National Push-Pull Bench Press and Deadlift Championships on June 8, 2013, Perlis benched a world record 187.2 lbs on his fifth attempt (really old guys get more attempts). He was aided by what looks like a single ply bench shirt and a strangely perfect set of teeth (Excuse me sir, where did you purchase that exquisite set of chompers?).

One article also says he didn’t start strength training until he was 60 years old; it’s never too late to start. The man is in good health and is still kickin’ at 91 years old. There must be something to this strength training stuff; strong ain’t wrong.

PR Friday and Robert’s First Meet

I asked one of my Vintage Strong lifters, Robert, to write up a recap after his first powerlifting meet last week. I’ve been incredibly proud of his work in and out of the gym, and thought his story would be a great one to share with you all, and knew that he’s a great writer and it would make a good read. What he sent me impressed me even more than I imagined. This is a heart-felt and honest story, folks. Check it out, and post your PRs in the comments as you would any other Friday – but go ahead and mention how many days out from your next meet you are while you’re at it. – Cloud 

When I first started trying to write this I had a difficult time deciding what was worth sharing. Should I talk about how I learned pretty quickly that a competition bench is much wider than the bench I use for training at my gym, and as a result I felt rock solid steady on that thing? Or how on my third bench attempt my face split into a huge grin as soon as I got the press command because I felt how easy 248 was, and then got teased by the judges because, “there ain’t no smiling during the lift?” How about the incredible embodiment of strength in all the participants through their support, compassion, and empathy? Or how I went nine for nine (and got a perfect 27 for 27 from the judges), set four PRs (three coming on my final attempts for each lift), and I shattered my goal of a 1000lb total by hitting 1063? All of these were eye opening, and very important for me, but I was still curious as to what I could possibly have to say that is worth hearing. Then it hit me: this has been my biggest hurdle both in and out of the gym. I rarely understand why anyone would think I am worth whatever he or she is asking of me, because I constantly think I am not good enough. Maybe, just maybe, Cloud is still coaching me out of the gym, and knows I need to work on this… so I decided to write about how I hit 1063 by NOT listening to that asshole little voice in the back of my head that tells me, “you are not good enough,” and instead listened to my coach and my handler (here is a great article by Cloud that hammers this same stuff out very clearly).

Cloud started coaching me back in March. I had been running the Greyskull LP for about a month or so, and had been really enjoying it. However, I had been program hopping for the last three and a half years, and as a result, I had basically the same PRs in March that I had four years prior. GSLP might be a good program, but I finally realized that I needed to reach out and ask for some help.

Cloud slid into the role of coach effortlessly, and he knew really quickly how to explain to me the plans we were implementing, and how to get my head out of my ass. We continued to run a modified LP right up to four weeks out from the meet, when we transitioned to a Texas Method taper approach. I could go into all the detail for you, but suffice to say, that for the first time since my D1 swim coach in college, I trusted someone to tell me what to do, when to do it, and that it would be the right move. I trusted that Cloud knew more than I did, and as a result the whole “not good enough” attitude started to fade.

Come meet day it was impossible for Cloud to be there in person to keep an eye on me. He was out in Austin for his Push/Pull, and I was in Atlanta. Cloud and I did take some time to map out exactly how to approach the attempts, and he made a fantastic plan for me to give to my handler when things got rolling. Enter my buddy Alex.

I asked Alex to handle me because Alex coaches another guy at our gym, Dave, and Dave set some solid PRs a few weeks back. He told me he never knew what was on the bar because Alex put in the weights so he wouldn’t think. I immediately wanted Alex to do the same. As someone who overthinks, I knew I could ruin the meet by overthinking my second and third attempts.

Alex is a few years my junior, but he is a huge inspiration to me. He also competes in the 198lb weight class, and is a trainer at the gym where I train: Core Body Decatur. Besides his great lifting knowledge, Alex is just an all around great person, and despite my insistence on paying him, agreed to come handle me free of charge. I sent him Cloud’s spreadsheet two days out, and all I heard from him between then and meet day was, “looks good, but let’s see how your openers look.” I was a bit disheartened by this, because I of course interpreted Alex’s response as, “You are not good enough to hit those weights.” Boy, was I wrong. Alex did not tell me, but he thought I was shortchanging myself.

When Alex arrived on Saturday morning he completely overhauled what I had planned. He cut my expected warm-up reps by almost two-thirds, and I was admittedly a bit nervous going into the first squat. Next thing I knew, 319 felt like kiddy weight and was quickly followed by a very easy 342 (which was the worst case scenario third attempt Cloud and I had come up with). I was starting to buy in. Third attempt goes up with a bit of a fight, but nothing bad. I went to the table and asked how much it was. They just laughed at me and said 358. 358!? A thirteen-pound PR that easily? That was what Cloud and I thought might be a best-case scenario. Needless to say, I was listening to my handler from there on out.

The bench went similarly. Smaller warm up, super easy opener and second attempt. Third attempt felt so light I grinned like a fool, and then came to find out I had just pushed 248, an eight-pound PR, easily. Moreover, Alex actually had to go beyond the plan Cloud and I had mapped out, because we guessed 242 at best.

Deadlift time: my bread and butter. The one lift I knew I had in the bag. I also knew that I had performed so well on the squat and bench, that all I had to do was hit my 395 opener to break 1000. That felt awesome. No pressure now, just fun time. Same thing: super short warm up, incredibly easy opener. Second attempt, Alex gives me advice for the first time: “Keep your hips high and your shoulders over the bar. This ought to go up pretty easy, but you tend to hitch when you get those shoulders back too early.” Fair enough, except it was not pretty easy. It was SUPER easy. It was also 430, a fifteen pound PR, and what Cloud and I mapped out as my most likely third attempt. I am geared up now, thinking “third attempt, what might happen?” Again, Alex steps close to me, “I have no doubt you have the strength to make this pull, but you have got to keep your shoulders ahead of the bar, otherwise you will hitch.” I step up, start to pull, and it gets going and then it hits me, this is a tough pull. However, I kept my shoulders back, and actually remembered Cloud’s advice instead of Alex’s: “when it gets heavy, just ride it out. Do not let go. Just keep it moving. It will be there.” It was. A 457 deadlift, a forty-two- pound PR, and it sure as hell was good enough.